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Invicta Interviews: James Beale, Operations Manager

Choosing efficient routes over short-cuts

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For the first in a series of interviews with key personnel at Invicta, we sat down with Operations Manager James Beale to get an insight into operations across our five divisions and six international offices, and how Invicta has managed to stay efficient without cutting corners.

Simple question to start with: who are you and what is your role at Invicta?

My name’s James, I’m the Operations Manager for the Invicta Group. I’m based in our Dubai office now, but I originally started with Invicta UK back in 2008. I was based there for four years and then relocated to the Middle East.

So how did you get into management as a career, and what brought you to Invicta in the first place?

Invicta were actually my client with my previous company. I was working with Invicta for about three years, and then they asked me to join, initially as the Group’s Sales and Marketing Manager. Over the next three or four years, my role developed.

As some other people left the company, my role expanded into operations and overseeing the Group’s operations, moving out to the Middle East and becoming involved in that location as well.

So your role has changed quite a bit over the years.

Yes, it’s changed quite dramatically. So from when I initially started working with Invicta for my previous company, to then joining Invicta as a Sales and Marketing Manager, and now as Operations Manager.

Overseeing operations across six divisions and multiple countries sounds challenging. Is that the case, and what does a typical day look like for you?

I would say it is challenging in terms of trying to keep tabs on everything because obviously the role spans quite a large and diverse number of tasks and areas of the business. So I think the good thing is – the way Invicta is structured – we are very flat, and people manage their own responsibilities, and have their own roles.

But likewise, because we’re a small to medium enterprise, people are also flexible, they can cover each other’s roles and be dynamic. So in that respect, people are not micromanaged. They’re left to get the job done – they know what they need to do, and they get on with it.

And so I would say my role is now more looking from a high level management perspective, overseeing the performance of the company, ensuring that procedures are followed, reports are generated and analysed in terms of sales performance and job execution, ensuring that legislation is followed in terms of health and safety matters, and compliance with standards that say within the different industries. It’s quite difficult to juggle so many balls, but it’s definitely challenging and rewarding as well.

James Beale, Operations Manager at the Invicta Group

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So when you’re overseeing those processes and procedures, is that process the same across divisions, or do different divisions require a slightly different approach?

I would say in general that the divisions within each region have similar processes. When I say similar processes, I mean that all of the divisions fall under the broad construction industry at one level or another.

Some of our divisions are more in the interior or fitout side, whereas for example, the Durasteel division is more in the civil construction side, on building sites. So in terms of health and safety and compliance, there are obviously specific procedures and processes that need to be followed for each of those divisions.

But if you look at it from a higher level, you’ve always got fundamental health and safety processes to be implemented, the monitoring to be carried out, and ensuring that people’s safety is adhered to. So I think the underlying process behind that is still similar regardless of the exact, specific area within construction that you’re in.

So by ensuring that your health and safety processes are clearly defined, that people are aware of the health and safety procedures before a project starts, that risk assessments have been carried out, that method statements are clear, and that these are then followed when people get through to the worksite, the work site itself is almost secondary. Because as long as the process has been followed before that, you know that the execution of it almost comes automatically.

How do you balance efficiency savings with that issue of maintaining a safe working environment?

I think health and safety always has to come first, above anything else. There’s absolutely no reason why you should be compromising on health and safety for commercial reasons.

It’s been a big topic of recent years, obviously with the fires that have happened, Grenfell being the key one. But there have been many other incidents where now it’s coming to light that companies have been cutting corners, and making decisions based on the commercial reasoning as the first point, and considering the health and safety of employees, or even the general public as a secondary matter.

In our Durasteel division, we’re designing and supplying high-performance fire and blast protection systems, so safety is at the core of what we do as a company. We can’t and we don’t compromise anywhere on the system that we’re installing. But likewise, we also wouldn’t compromise on the health and safety aspect of executing the job to provide that system.

So whether it’s working at height or on an offshore platform, for me, the first thing to make sure of is that our employees are safe when they’re installing the systems. So that means that the right safety equipment has to be used at the right time and in the right way.

Sometimes this means going beyond the legislative minimum to make sure that for us as a company, we are happy with the process that’s being carried out and the way it’s being done.

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Where do you typically find those efficiency savings then, if it’s not in or around health and safety?

I would say that proactive planning is definitely a really good way to minimise your additional costs. As a sub-contractor, there are a lot of aspects that are out of our direct control because they’re in the control of the main contractor, or either the consultant or the end client.

There’s only so many things that you can directly control, but I think for those that you do have direct control of, it’s important to be proactively planning them. In our industry, I think there is a tendency to become reactive when something happens.

When you just react to that event, within no time you end up chasing your own tail, trying to catch up and rectify. And there’s a big risk there that when you start to do that, you’ve still got the pressure of deadlines and milestones from the client. That’s where people can sometimes start to compromise on things or cut corners, and the project can start to go in the wrong direction.

So I think [the answer is] planning, efficiently and effectively and proactively, from the beginning, and trying to foresee any of the things that may happen along the way. It’s very difficult in many cases, because as I said, there’s so many factors that can play a part. You’ve got raw material supply. You’ve got other trades that maybe have their own delays. You’ve got the weather that you can’t control. You’ve got things like the pandemic now that are almost completely unforeseeable.

Sometimes you might have a plan in place, and then suddenly something unexpected happens and you can no longer execute that plan for whatever reason. I think then the key is that you have to be agile and open minded to find a solution. Sometimes that solution may be not one that you’re even familiar with, but it may be the right solution to go with.

That doesn’t automatically mean stepping outside of your own expertise and skill set – if it’s outside of that, then you’ve got other considerations such as engaging third parties, or an external consultant, or even another subcontractor that’s a specialist in that area. I think that being agile to changing circumstances is an important thing when your proactive planning doesn’t go to plan. You can’t be too rigid or let pride get in the way when things don’t go as planned.

Are there any projects you’ve worked on where that planning process has been particularly useful, or that really epitomised the work you’ve done at Invicta to improve efficiency?

Most recently it would be Doha Metro in Qatar, which we started in 2016.

This was a very large project for even Invicta as a group. In fact, it was the largest single order we’ve ever taken, anywhere in the world. There were quite significant demands on that project in the sense that they were building a whole Metro system, 37 stations across 3 lines, in basically a single phase.

If you look at most of the Metro systems around the world, they are built progressively over a number of years or decades as a city evolves in line with the overall urban master plan.

The biggest thing with Doha Metro was that it was all three lines plus major stations in parallel.

When that project started, we had our Middle East setup in Dubai and we’d done projects in Qatar before, but we didn’t have a dedicated projects team set up there. So when we won our first scope on that project, it was a case where we had to very quickly bring together a project team that could cover all of the technical aspects: drawing production, health and safety, quality control, fabrication, project management, all of these different aspects had to very quickly pulled together.

I think finding the right people was the most important aspect of that. Until we had the people in place, we couldn’t really start anything. We had people sitting in Dubai, but it wasn’t ideal being so far away on a project of that scale. We needed people on the ground in Qatar.

So we actually flew to India and Nepal, and recruited more than 70 people in total in a very short space of time. We had to get visas issued for them, we had to relocate them from their home countries. We then had to arrange everything like accommodation and transportation for them, all of the essential stuff before the project could even start to proceed.

That was the first step. Once we had the people physically in place, we got our whole team together. We sat everyone down in the meeting, and went literally from the very starting point of the project – what the project was, how many stations they’re building, what the timeline was – into the technical specifications, the requirements for each person, what their responsibilities were.

We literally went from the ground up, to educate people and give them the basic information that they needed. I think once we got to that point, we then had a foundation to begin the planning process and actually start to put things into motion.

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You mentioned Doha Metro, and you’ve also recently worked on the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. What are the unique challenges, the particular challenges of maintaining efficiency on a project of that kind of scale?

On the Doha Metro – aside from the number of workers that we had to recruit in various positions, and in different roles and skillsets – once these people were on the ground in Qatar, there was then the physical distribution of people.

We were actually working on five different stations at one time. So it was a bit different to regular projects for us, because normally when we’re engaged on a project, you’re on a project site and that’s where your materials go to, and where you are going to build the project. But one of the things that made it even more complicated was the physical distribution throughout Doha city, geographically.

Every day we had guys going to station one, station two, station three, station four, we had project engineers moving between the stations, we had site surveys going on in one station, access equipment being delivered. It was that physical distribution and segmentation of the workforce. Although we had a big team as a collective, they were all broken up into smaller sub-teams, and then we had people moving between multiple sub-teams as well.

So for example, we didn’t have a project engineer on each station. We had one project engineer covering the works in two stations. So that in itself was definitely a new challenge for us, because normally we’d have all of our guys on one single site.

Whereas with Doha Metro, suddenly we had guys working on the same project, but across multiple sites. So it meant even with things like supplier deliveries, there had to be coordination between when a delivery was going to arrive at site A, then moved to site B and then moved to site C.

At each site, the deliveries would have to be offloaded, and there’s a quality control check and inspection. So it made it almost five times more complex than a regular site that we’d be running. That was definitely one of the challenges on Doha Metro.

With regards to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, that was our first project as a main contractor, so on that particular project, although Durasteel was the key component for the rectification of the underground smoke extraction and ventilation system, we also took under our scope multiple other aspects. There were civil works, cladding, various works in the parking area, electrical, sprinkler modifications, all different things.

Although technically we were comfortable with the work that needed to be carried out on site, being in the main contractor role has different requirements to it as well. When we’re working as a specialist sub-contractor, the main contractor is our point of contact and handles all of the major document control, compliance, site security office set up and things like that. And it’s only when we became a main contractor that all of that comes on us to deal with.

So not only were we doing our regular site work and everything associated with that, we also had the additional responsibilities of being a main contractor. Things like site security, making sure that the general public didn’t wander through the basement parking area – that’s a big concern when you’ve got machinery moving around, works going on, and vehicles moving around.

Associated with these main contractor tasks is also the documentation trail that goes with that, and the associated liability and responsibility as the main contractor of the site. Once the client handed the site over to us, they also handed over control of health and safety within that area.

Any damage that occurred in that area during that time when it was handed over to us was our responsibility. So again, it goes from our primary concern as a sub-contractor being to execute the works that have been awarded to us, to a much broader picture and responsibilities as a main contractor.

With all of that in mind, what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned in your time as Operations Manager at Invicta?

I would probably say that above all else, transparency and communication are key. Even when things are not going as planned or the way that you want them to, for whatever reason – things being outside of your control, or blaming someone else, it’s not our fault, whatever it is – for me, the key is transparency and communication.

All the time that you bury your head in the sand or try to turn away from an issue, for me it only starts to snowball. And very rarely, once something starts to snowball can you turn away from it and just make it go away. Because nine times out of 10, it never just goes away. In the end it will escalate, and there will be a fallout from it.

Sometimes, facing an issue head on and making them aware of it is not to the client’s immediate liking. But for me, in the long run, it’s actually for the best that you’re transparent, open and honest, and you put the cards on the table and you say: look, this is what’s happened for these reasons, and this is why it’s happened, but we need to find a solution. If there’s going to be a delay or if there’s going to be a cost impact, you have to just face that fact and address it.

Sometimes that’s not to your liking or to your benefit, or to the client’s liking or  benefit, but ultimately that’s the situation, and the only way to address it and find a solution is to look it in the face and find a way forward from that situation.


The Invicta Group continues to grow and take on new projects and new territories, which is very exciting. What does the future look like for Invicta in 2023 and beyond?

Over the past five or six years, we’ve been very heavily involved in transportation projects. We worked on Crossrail in London, Dubai Metro in the UAE and Doha Metro in Qatar, and we are now working on Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia and Kolkata Metro in India. And we’ve also completed some scope on the Kuala Lumpur Metro MRT extension as well.

These have been very key projects for us over the past five or six years, and there are many more metro projects coming up over the next five to 10 years.

We’re currently focusing on India, and the Middle East, [where there are] a number of Metro and Rail projects coming up. But I think what we’ve seen is that the world is changing a bit. Where there was huge investment in these projects before, we’re not seeing the pipeline of these mega or giga projects coming up. Doha Metro was probably a once in a lifetime giga-project. We’re not seeing projects of that size or with such short timescales coming through at the moment.

One of the other areas that we’ve always worked in has been oil and gas, and I think there’s been a slight shift in the outlook there. People keep saying that there’ll be strong demand for oil for years to come because industries just aren’t ready to change, but likewise, it’s a fact that people are looking at different and more sustainable energy sources: hydrogen, wind, solar. We’ve just done a big project for a wind farm in the UK, and we’re just about to start a similar second project, and this is clearly a key area of continued development for the UK government

So, with that in mind, we have also started to look at other areas where we can apply our expertise, outside of the typical markets we’ve been focusing on for the last 15 or 20 years, which have been typically transportation, oil and gas and electricity providers.

So I think that the way we’re moving forward is not to solely focus on those huge mega and giga projects, but to diversify slightly and evolve with the times. Things are changing, so we’re trying to move with the times and evolve.

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One final question: is there anyone you’d like to shout out as particularly important to your work at Invicta?

I honestly wouldn’t like to single anyone out. Because we’re now distributed across multiple countries – obviously you’ve got our head office the UK, we’ve got the Middle East operation with Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, we’ve got guys in Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia. What I would say is we’ve tried to build a team that’s based on our people.

I think that’s what’s key to Invicta as a company, is that many of our people have been at the company for more than 20 years. I haven’t reached the 20-year mark yet – I’m at 14 years now. But more than 50% of our employees are around that 20-year mark of service – particularly in the UK, because the UK company has been there almost 40 years now.

We’ve built the company around people, and the trust of our employees and the team as a whole. As a collective, the whole team has contributed to the company’s success, but also the company’s expansion into different regions, expertise and markets. We’re a small to medium enterprise, but we’ve completed projects in more than 26 countries globally which is quite an achievement. I don’t think there’s any way that you can do that without having a team that works together and supports each other.

We’ve completed projects in Hawaii, Trinidad, Nigeria, all across Europe and the Middle East and now India. And most recently out expansion to Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Last year we did a project in Brunei, which again, was completely new to us as we’d never done a project in Brunei before.

I think the only way that works is when you’ve got a team that works together. The stepping stone for that would have been when we first set up the company in the Middle East, but in Dubai specifically, in 2008. We had one employee in Dubai, Anand, who is still with us and now General Manager for the region, but all of the backend support at that time was actually done by the UK office team. So that was the first stepping stone for our international expansion as our own standalone office or entity abroad.

Once we had the Dubai operation set up – and that’s where our Middle-East core team still is based – we’ve then replicated that in Qatar, and then in Saudi Arabia. More recently we’ve just done the same in India, where we are working on Kolkata Metro, and Malaysia, where we have a Sales Manager based there, but the technical support is coming from the Dubai team at present.

Our core company culture is our people working together and supporting each other – when someone’s off, someone else covers, they step in, they support, they keep the wheels turning. The common goal as a team is to better the company and complete the projects to the highest standards possible.

So I can’t single anyone out, but I think that’s the shout-out, to everyone within the team wherever they are based.

Excellent answer. And I think that’s very revealing, in a good way. James, thank you very much.

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